Late last year Monomoy Point Lighthouse on Cape Cod, Massachusetts was awarded $1.5 million dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is more commonly known as the Stimulus.
However, as much as I support lighthouse preservation, even I have to question if this $1.5 million is a wise investment of taxpayer money in these economic times, especially when almost no one visits the lighthouse that has undergone past restoration projects. Let’s face it; $1.5 million is a lot of money.
In the mid 1960s Monomoy Point Lighthouse, which had been privately owned since it was discontinued in the 1920s, was purchased by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and renovations were made at that time.
In 1977 the Audubon Society sold the lighthouse to the federal government and it is now owned by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is now part of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
During a strong winter storm in early 1978 Monomoy Point was cut into two islands, making public access to the lighthouse extremely difficult.
In 1988-89, thanks to the efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy, federal money was secured to make extensive repairs to the buildings. The keeper’s house was also partially re-roofed in 2003, after leaks in the roof of the keeper’s house caused some interior damage. According to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, since then, weather and age have deteriorated the structures, especially the unheated interiors. Even though they have been awarded $1.5 million, the federal government apparently does not know exactly how much various phases of the restoration will cost.
However, according to its web site, the Refuge says the money will be used to restore the historic integrity and structural soundness of the lighthouse and its living quarters and oil shed to provide a base of operations for Refuge staff and volunteers when they are conducting wildlife surveys and management activities on the refuge. The Refuge also states that this will in turn allow an opportunity to offer public access to the lighthouse for educational and scientific programs.
I am in certainly in favor of some federal money being used to help lighthouse restoration projects, but $1.5 million just being given away to one remote lighthouse, with no strings or matching money, is questionable. I have personally been involved in a number of lighthouse restoration projects, and in each case the volunteers worked hard at raising money to save the lighthouse. They held dinners, cruises, sold raffle tickets, sold hot dogs, had baked sales, sold merchandise and applied for hundreds of private grants, most of which were denied. But in each case, the lighthouse was saved or is in the process of being saved, all through old fashioned hard work followed by a true sense of accomplishment.
The Stimulus money is supposed to stimulate employment and economic growth, and I have to wonder how $1.5 million being spent of taxpayer money at Monomoy Point Lighthouse will accomplish either of these with anything other than a minor impact. Could the project be accomplished with less taxpayer money? Could or should some of the money have been raised through local fund raising efforts and private grants?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have to wonder. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
This story appeared in the
April 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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